Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Photographing Art

Since the discussion about photographing art at a museum, a couple of you have asked about photographing artwork with less than ideal lights and camera. It just so happens that I am also a professional photographer (a small sampling of my work is here) with a full studio of lights and various do-dads but there is a lot an artist can do to get nice shots of their work without all that.

The worst type of art to try to photograph is textured, glossy and dark. Shooting those types of pieces deserves it's own post. For this post let's assume that you are going to shoot an average piece with limited equipment. Here are the most important things to have:

1. Even lighting (don't just put light on one side of the piece). Outdoor shade lighting (like just inside an open garage or in the shade of a building is ideal) can be a very inexpensive way to light your work.
This is an example of a light just used on one side of the art

2. Unicolor light - it's the easiest to lockdown a color balance with a single color lightsource. So for example, tungsten, shade, fluorescent, etc.

3. Any digital camera with a clean lens. Almost all digital cameras have white balance (WB) presets but it is most preferable to have the option for Custom WB. Check your manual to find out how to access the WB settings.

Also a tripod is very useful but not essential and a Gray Card can be helpful but I will mention more about that below.

The quality in modern point-and-shoot (P&S) cameras is quite remarkable so don't feel bad if that is all you have. I heard Donato Giancola say in a lecture to the Society of Illustrators that he would shoot his paintings for use on book covers with a P&S. The most important thing is learning how to use it properly. Here are some notes on important considerations for photographing your art:

1. Know how to properly set your white balance for your light source.Example of bad WB

2. An ideal lens for photographing your work is a 50mm lens but since the average P&S has a zoom lens, the safest bet is to get back away from your art and zoom forward. If you are too close, you risk creating a fish-eye effect, curving the lines of your art in a convex arch. So stand back and zoom in.Example of Fish-Eye effect

3. Give yourself enough light so that you can keep your ISO fast (like 100) and your shutter speed high (like 1/125 sec or higher). This will help keep your images crisp.

Gray Card Technique:
If you still are having issues with color, try this. Get a 18% gray card from a photo supply store and place it next to the art so that it receives the same light as the art. The photograph the art and make sure to include the card in the picture.

In Photoshop go to Levels (Image>Adjustments>Levels) and using the middle eyedropper tool in the Levels window, click on the gray card in your image and the image color should adjust to the right WB for your lighting (or something pretty darn close). Then click OK and crop your art image to taste.

I hope these techniques are useful to you. If you would like to read a much more involved article, this one I found is quite good.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Hunger Games Part 1

I recently read the book, "Hunger Games," by Suzanne Collins and I loved it. I couldn't put it down. It had flavors of everything I like in an adventure: post-apocalyptic society, life and death struggles, warriors outsmarting one another, and even a little romance. It was so much fun to read that I decided to take a little time and paint a couple of portfolio pieces based on the book.

In this and the coming entries I will take you through how I would approach a project like this.
First comes trying to figure out some ideas - what scene/character do I want to describe. For me, I want to do a hero piece for Katniss first. She's a survivor - a strong and focused character. So I make some character sketches and start to think about what poses would work.

Next time: Narrowing down and picking which sketch to develop.

Gerome and color reproductions

Well, let's get started on this new blog. I was just catching up at my favorite art blog, GurneyJourney, and saw the announcement and critique of a show at the Getty Museum of the work of Jean Leon Gerome. Gerome has long been an artist I have admired for his epic scenes and dramatic (even cinematic) lighting. But my favorite image of his has always been Pygmalion and Galatea, an image that captured my imagination, even from a young age, of artwork coming alive!It wasn't until 2007 that I first got to see the original at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. Seeing the original work surprised me in two ways:

One: It was a lot smaller than I expected. Surrounded as it was by so many large and grand pieces it was easy to miss.

Two: The colors looked nothing like what I had seen in the various books. I had looked at quite a number of reproductions in books and they usually differed from one another (that's to be expected) - but the original was SO different! It was amazing to see the original work!

In James Gurney's blog he links to a site, JeanLeonGerome.org, which apparently has images of all of Gerome's works. I was mortified to see the classic bad reproduction representing the Pygmalion piece on the site. So, for anyone who is interested, here you can see the original (on the left) and the bad, but all too common, version on the right.

Quite a difference, eh?

During my visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I asked and got permission to bring a tripod around and photograph various pieces around the museum. I carefully set my white balance and exposure to take the best images possible. I could also take closeups of certain areas for study at home.

Many museums will allow you to do this so ask ahead of time. Some have a policy of absolutely no photography and seem scandalized when I ask. Others are delighted that I care so much for these pieces and want to study them. So the take home message is - don't be afraid to ask (calling ahead is best) and you may have a real treasure of quality images to enjoy and learn from in the comfort of your home.

If anyone is interested, here is a link you can click on to get the full-sized file of the Pygmalion piece. If anyone is interested in my closeup shots just drop me a line.